Winners of Alameda County Superior Court Judgeships usually don't get calls from national media. But Victoria Kolakowski -- "spelled just like it sounds" -- isn't just any judge.
She's almost certainly the first transgender judge in American history, and even more almost certainly, the first elected transgender judge. Yet, if Bay Area voters had seen things differently, she'd have been the first transgender rent board member or transit commissioner.
Kolakowski ran -- unsuccessfully -- for Berkeley's Rent Board and the AC Transit Board of directors in the 1990s, and also lost a run for a judge's seat two years ago. She doesn't think voters are more accepting now than before. Rather, she's now a better candidate than years ago.
"I think that, in general, voters care about the quality, the experience, and the message. Most people just want someone who can get the job done," said the 49-year-old, who underwent her reassignment operation in 1992 and has been living "as me" since 1989.
"When this is all said and done, I still have to go to court every day and be a judge. If I didn't feel qualified and capable, I wouldn't have stepped forward. And if the people of the county didn't think so, they wouldn't have elected me."
Kolakowski isn't sure if being an openly transgender candidate helped or hurt -- though, as for the latter, she points out that Alameda County stretches all the way to Livermore, and being transgender in Livermore ain't the same thing as being transgender in Berkeley. "Not everyone in our county is a liberal Democrat or Green," she says. "We have Republicans, moderate or conservative Democrats -- we have a Tea Party Movement in parts of the county."
The jurist said she isn't feeling pigeonholed by the description "the transgender judge." Not yet at least.
Being transgender "wasn't a major part of my campaign message. I never ran away from it, but it's not what I put front and center," she says. "I felt I'd be a good, qualified judge. In terms of having the label attached to me, I'm happy to wear it if it lets people know that a transgender person can be capable, experienced, professional, and have positions like this in our community."
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